Memoir Contest Winner: Carole Glass on The Summer of ’64

by Matilda Butler on February 23, 2012

catnav-scrapmoir-active-3Post #171 – Women’s Memoirs, ScrapMoir – Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett

All Things Labor — Memoir Contest – Honorable Mention Story, Labor Day Category

Today Women’s Memoirs is pleased to publish Honorable Mention winner in our September 2011 Memoir Writing Contest, Labor Day Category.

Carole Glass gives us a lovely, fun story with memories of a childhood first job that bestowed a sense of importance and profit. We also like the graceful way she worked in a sense of time.

Congratulations Carole for taking all of us back to innocent summers and growing up.

We invite you to leave Carole a note in the Comments section below her story.

memoir-storytelling, memoir contest, memoir writing contest, memoir contest winner, writingMemoir Contest Honorable Mention, Labor Day Category

by Carole Glass

My hopes for the summer of ’64 were simple: get Mark to kiss me, get the new Beatles album and get a good tan by the fourth of July. I had just graduated from eighth grade and the summer stretched before me like one of my favorite bike rides: long, fun and somewhere new. Little did I know that my summer adventure was just up the road. I was about to get my first job.

During the prior year I had done occasional babysitting with my younger siblings and cousins; but recently Mrs. Wahlensack started asking me to watch her children for a few hours on a weekend evening. They were my first “client” outside of family. I don’t know if it was because the other sitters in the neighborhood actually had a social life or the children threatened a hunger strike, but soon Mrs.Wahlensack was asking me to babysit all day, for two or three days during the week. It meant less time for reading under the big maple in our back yard, going swimming, or just hanging out with my friends, but I felt important. I learned that responsibility could be both fun and profitable.

That is, profitable in 1960s dollars. I was paid about $1 an hour. But it was exciting because I was not paid for watching my younger brother and sister while my parents went bowling. My father did not believe in monetary compensation for doing chores or in giving allowances. Requests for spending money required forms in triplicate, two weeks in advance clearly stating the purpose and economic benefit of your request. So the thought of having a regular source of my own money was empowering. I could bypass the Bank of Dad and its mercenary methods.

The Wahlensacks lived four houses up the highway from ours. And, like ours, theirs was a two-story brick house with a shady yard. What you couldn’t see from outside was how different it was on the inside. The first time I went there, I stood in the quiet kitchen as Mrs. Wahlensack asked me a lot of questions. I didn’t know it then, but it was my first job interview.
Suddenly, there was a loud crash accompanied by the harsh sound of metal striking wood. Then a hush, followed by multiple young voices screaming, “Mommmm!” Mrs. Wahlensack stopped in the mid-sentence and rushed down the hall to a closed wooden door. Quickly, I followed behind her.

As I peered around Mrs. Wahlensack, fourteen eyes stared back at me. The room, once an elegant study, was filled with children. The children were not hurt, but needed an adult to settle their argument. In the averaged-sized room two kids were riding tricycles, while another on roller skates circled books, toys and two little boys sitting on the hardwood floor. A girl who looked about six stood on the window seat. The others came running towards us. As Mrs. Wahlensack tried to calm her children, they began to tug at my leg, jump up and down and yell, “The babysitter is here!”

I was stunned by the sight of seven children, ranging from Joseph, the baby, to Joanne, James, Jane, Jennifer, Jason and John who was nine, all in one room. But I quickly learned the benefits of Mrs.Wahlensack’s containment strategy. You knew where the children were. No searching, no counting heads. And while the den-turned-playroom was chaos, the rest of the house stayed relatively in order.

The playroom was a world unto its self, a world ruled by children. They entertained each other, kept some order and looked after the little ones. But where I came from, riding indoors was not allowed — not bikes, not skates. While the children had toys, they clung to me. Jennifer, who was six, had brown eyes the size of silver dollars and a sweet smile. She followed me everywhere.

During my days at the Wahlensacks, I too played in the room with the kids. I ignored the GI Joe’s and instead made up games and stories. It was hard to keep all seven busy and it wasn’t long before I realized their insatiable thirst for attention. Just once in a while, I wanted to shut the door and lie down like my mother did when she got her headaches.

When it finally came time to tuck them in, we all marched upstairs. The older children slept in a large, white room. There were no toys, stuffed animals, or even pictures on the walls. Six beds were arranged army style, in two rows. The baby’s crib was in an adjacent room, which was also very plain. I’d count heads, then make up a story to calm them down. When it was finally quiet, I crept downstairs, relieved.

Waiting for their parents to return, I’d only watch TV if “Bewitched” or “Peyton Place” was on. The pictures on the news of the protest marches and the war in Vietnam were upsetting. Instead, I’d read Mrs. Wahlensack’s copy of  “Good Housekeeping” or daydream about high school.

I needed to pick my courses for school in the fall and dad kept saying, “You’re taking algebra and biology. Only college prep.” It didn’t sound like fun. My older sister was starting college, but to me college just seemed like going to a bigger high school. What was the big deal?

In the beginning, on the days I walked up the hill to the Wahlensack’s house, I imagined that I was Mary Poppins, or Ethel Kennedy. But as the summer wore on, I realized that the Wahlensacks story was not a fairy tale.
Mr. Wahlensack was in the Air Force, and often out of town. He looked handsome in his uniform, but when he drove me home at night in his red, VW bug, he didn’t say much. Mrs. Wahlensack looked tired and older than her husband. She dressed plainly and gave few instructions. I never knew where she went while I was there. For all the energy bursting from their playroom, the rest of the house had an odd feeling of emptiness. To serve the kids their Pop Tarts or peanut butter sandwiches, I often had to wash some of the dirty dishes in the sink. It was not like my mom’s spotless kitchen.

September came and I started high school right after Labor Day. The Wahlensacks moved away. I didn’t get to kiss Mark that summer or work on my tan but I did buy the Beatles album with my own spending money. Also, for a time, I got to try on someone else’s life. I realized that life doesn’t always turn out like a movie and things can be different than they appear. I needed to think hard about my life choices, starting with my class choices.  

storytelling, memoir, memoir writing

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